Castles, culture and conservation: A town guide to Colchester
PUBLISHED: 12:05 24 September 2019
Colchester is one of the county’s most popular tourist destinations, with attractions that celebrate both a rich heritage of days gone by and innovations that aim to protect our world for the future. Petra Hornsby found out more
Situated in North Essex, Colchester is one of the county's top tourist destinations. While visitors to Essex are spoilt for choice, with fabulous coastal and estuary locations, ancient forests and picturesque market towns steeped in history, Colchester stands out as a jewel in the county's crown.
Famous for its Roman origins, Colchester was later a Norman settlement and played its part in the English Civil War. A garrison town, it has also housed serving military personnel through many major conflicts as well as times of peace.
A walk through the town is the perfect opportunity to revel in the town's rich heritage, with timbered buildings, the Roman walls and circus, the Dutch Quarter, Norman churches and gatehouses.
Perhaps the most recognisable architectural symbol of the town's past is the castle. It was once the site of a Roman temple destroyed by fire and was later built on by the Normans with a keep presiding over the area.
The castle today makes for a fascinating visit, with plenty of exhibits and interactive displays that tell the story of all the past settlers who made Colchester and the region their home.
Culturally, the town has a fantastic choice of entertainment venues with two cinemas, an award-winning theatre (which is currently being refurbished), an arts centre and a multi-arts site.
Shopping aficionados are also indulged with a fantastic choice of shops, both major names and independents, including Fenwick's department store. First class restaurants and coffee shops serve the foot-weary and those wanting sporting entertainment might enjoy a trip to the Community Stadium to watch Colchester United FC or, for a tranquil setting close to the river, catch a game of cricket.
The Castle Park has several events taking place throughout the year, including open-air cinema, food festivals and live music performances.
If the above isn't quite enough, then travel just a couple of miles further from the town centre and discover a treat for the whole family. Colchester Zoo is an incredible asset to the town, and indeed the county, voted as the second most popular zoo (after Chester) in the country by Trip Advisor Travellers' Choice Attractions.
The zoo, which is 56 years old, has been on a long journey of change and development over more recent years and the hard work and investment has really paid off.
The 60 acres of parkland and lakes is home to over 240 different species, some rare and endangered.
To serve the needs of the mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, birds, fish, insects and amphibians, the zoo has created, through careful design and attention to detail, some incredible natural habitats - perfect for residents but equally fascinating and educational for the visitors.
A great success for Colchester Zoo is its breeding programme, with many babies being welcomed this year including an aardvark, red river hog piglets, a red panda and, perhaps the most headline-grabbing so far, the zoo celebrated the arrival of three tiger cubs who were born on June 14.
As part of the European Endangered Species Programme, the zoo carefully assesses a species and sets out a plan for its future management along with recommendations for breeding and possibly moving individual animals to a collection at another zoo.
Conservation is a fundamental function of the zoo and its management clearly take this very seriously. Through its charitable organisation Action for the Wild, the zoo looks to support conservation projects across the world and has donated More than £2million to date.
The Umphafa Private Nature Reserve in South Africa is a key project and is very much part of the zoo's vision to create a safe and managed natural environment for a full range of species native to that part of Africa and eventually establish a breeding programme within the reserve for endangered animals.
The zoo offers an intern programme for people keen to learn more about conservation while offering welcome help for the work being carried out there.
Education is a motivating factor behind the zoo's mission and explains why it is a great choice for school visits. One key statement declares that they will maintain and develop 'an education programme from pre-school to degree level,' and this includes, 'developing its role as a centre for research'.
As for the children and all visitors, the zoo wants to 'promote care for the environment through education and leading by example,' and 'Increase public understanding of species and their welfare'.
What it boils down to is that the zoo is a great day out, with plenty of things to see and do, whatever your age. Of course, if by having that much fun, people are also learning something new that might help the conservation of the animal kingdom, then even better.
To gain even more of an insight, people can apply to be a Keeper for the Day and there are also opportunities for animals to be adopted with money raised through each adoption helping to support the essential work carried out by the zoo, including its charity projects.
Thanks to the carefully planned seasonal events throughout the year as well as the great play facilities, picnic areas and well thought through layout of the park, Colchester Zoo has been nominated yet again for multi awards by Essex Mums.
So, if a you fancy a trip to the Edge of Africa, Wilds of Asia or Vulture Valley, or would like to check in at Penguin Shores or Lost Madagascar, then Colchester Zoo is waiting for you.